A Few STEM Basics

GUEST COLUMN | by Anna Johansson

How the U.S. can stymie the gap in STEM education for low-income students

OC STEM ocstem.orgSTEM, a term coined by the National Science Foundation, is a designation for a comprehensive educational discipline incorporating elements of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics  as an answer to a great need to bring a more holistic approach to education within these elements. Although there is no national standard for implementing STEM, nearly every state incorporated a STEM program into their K-12 curricula to some extent.

Statistical data taken from samples across the country show a consistent gap in low-income, minority participation in STEM programs.  According to one study, done using the California school system as an example, only 35 percent of enrolled African-American students met the STEM mathematics proficiency by sixth grade while 85 percent of their non-minority peers met the proficiency requirements. As these students progress in grade levels, the gap widens and results in low college enrollment in STEM majors.

Bringing Low-Income And Minority Students Into STEM Programs

Under the right conditions, for example building a firm foundation of STEM related skills early, low-income and minority students will train to close the gap between supply and demand of the technology sector workforce.

Excepting one season on Public Broadcasting Service’s Sesame Street program promoting STEM concepts for young children, there has not been a great deal of resources devoted to advancing STEM in the early childhood development category. This fact represents a promising niche for early childhood development educators with STEM skill sets. However, there is an even greater shortage of qualified, skilled STEM professionals working in K-3 education than standard STEM professionals.

Additionally, the current administration is attempting to stymie the gap in STEM education as well by enlisting both public and private entities to help. This initiative has emphasize using “interactive games, hands-on learning, and community volunteers” to increase STEM literacy in American students. STEM design competitions have also been on the rise, which will encourage kids to become innovators and inventors instead of sports stars.

Profiles of Technology Careers In Demand

Many science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are in demand and projected as needed well into the future; providing low income students a training in these areas ensure that these students will be employed as graduates, thus helping end systemic poverty. As society has journeyed well into an age of excessive information and devices, all industries require the functions provided by both information technology (IT) professionals and business intelligence (BI) experts. Another example is information security – businesses want to be sure that their hard work is surrounded by an impenetrable firewall.

Information security also called information assurance is the practice of protecting data integrity in all stages. The data being protected is mainly in electronic formats but the practice encompasses the correct handling and protection of physical data as well. The public, private, and the non-profit sectors need people with these skill sets. The Department of Defense heavily recruits these individuals because they need U.S. citizens with security clearances to secure critical defense networks. Private organizations such as hospitals and other health systems rely on information security professionals to help them protect patient information. Information technology is a fast paced sector, and industry experts fear that there is a growing gap between the capabilities in information security and future needs to secure computer network environments according to Ernst and Young’s 2012 Global Information Security Survey.

Those working in the field of information security help detect and mitigate intrusions to computer networks to eliminate cyber crime and general mischief to technical systems. They use their training in network security, protocols, and topology to design new computer networks that nearly eliminate vulnerabilities. Successful information security professionals have strong analytical and problem solving skills built on a solid foundation of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics training. Most qualified individuals have at least an undergraduate degree in Computer Science with a concentration in information security or assurance. Others have a graduate degree Information Assurance or Information Security from an accredited university.

A Far More Tech Savvy Future

While it won’t be possible to close this attainment gap immediately, there is hope that many currently in power have every intention to do so. Those in the private sector should encourage these efforts, as well as look for ways to volunteer time and resources to ensure that every child is given an opportunity to excel in STEM.

Anna Johansson is a recent graduate who is putting off graduate school so she has more time to go rock climbing and read for pleasure. She is currently working as a freelance writer and hopes to become a Twitter sensation @Number1AnnaJo. Write to: a.m.johansson88@gmail.com 

  • Jason Sprenger


    Skills gaps are emerging in today’s economy, and a solution that’s proven to make a difference in helping the economy thrive is investing in career and technical education (CTE). CTE programs, whether at the secondary, post-secondary or other educational level, boost student achievement and deliver increased career and earning potential. CTE also produces workers for the open jobs of today, and boosts business productivity and economic status as a result.

    The Industry Workforce Needs Council is a new organization of businesses working together to spotlight skills gaps and advocate/kick off CTE programs that work to curb the problem. For more information, or to join the effort, visit the IWNC website.

    Jason Sprenger, for the IWNC

    • Anna Johansson

      Hello Jason,

      Thanks for taking the time to read and share your thoughts – I really appreciate that.

      CTE programs do sound extremely interesting, and I can’t wait to do some more research on the topic. I’ll be sure to check out your site!

  • Angelo Fernando


    Anna, I beg to differ about there being a lack of resources devoted to early childhood ed in STEM areas. One of the best kept secrets of the Montessori program is that it was heavily into these –science and math for sure– long before we shone a spotlight on these disciplines, and how they are inter-connected. One of the things Maria Montessori thought through was the ‘systemic’ importance of introducing these concepts early.In addition to developing a math and scientific mindset, the program focuses on geography, the environment, sensorial skills, problem-solving etc. I’ve heard it said that Sergei Brin is a product of Montessori…

    • Anna Johansson

      Hey Angelo,

      My apologies on the delay. First of all, thank you for reading. I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts.

      Yes, you have a point. Montessori programs do emphasize these subjects and many of the most famous computer scientists, quite a few that I know, are products of the Montessori system. However, and unfortunately, most kids are not in a Montessori program.

      This article really would lead nicely into a conversation about how all students could receive the same level of CSE education.

  • umbrarchist (@umbrarchist)


    The Empire State Building is 80 years old. Transistors are not even 70 years old. How can STEM people not figure out that planned obsolescence has been going on in cars for decades?

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